Teaching Artists

Montserrat Olmos

Montserrat Olmos | Traditional Mexican Dance

Artist’s Statement

Hello friends, my name is Montse Olmos and I am Tutunakú, which is one of the many Indigenous first nations of Mexico. Tutunakú is a compound word and it means tutu (three) and nakú (heart) or
“three hearts”. Among other meanings, this word references the three sounds that make up our heartbeat – where all music comes from.

I was born in Mexico City but I grew up in many different places. My maternal family’s roots are in the states of Nuevo Leon, Veracruz and Guanajuato. I spent my first years of life in Nuevo Leon, in my grandparents’ house. My uncles and aunts raised me. Then my mother and I moved to Tamaulipas, in the Gulf of Mexico, which was where I discovered my love for music and dance. On the weekends we would travel to Panuco, Veracruz to visit the street market, where I first witnessed an ensemble of Son Huasteco, the traditional music of Veracruz. Needless to say, I fell deeply in love. Additionally, we were required to learn dance in elementary school in Tamaulipas. Performance art was an important subject and we were graded on it. I also participated in the marching band and the school choir; anything that had to do with rhythm was my happy place!

After migrating to the United States at the age of fifteen, my entire life changed. We first settled in Texas and after arriving, I experienced a very intense culture shock and became disconnected from my traditions and cultural life-ways. I rejected “American” culture, did not speak English and missed home deeply. Art classes in high school were the one thing that I enjoyed, as they were the only element of the school experience that helped me through that hard time. When I was twenty-one years old I moved to New York, where I decided to finally do what I had always wanted: play music and dance! My first teachers were master dancers and musicians, Juan Lucero and Cecilia Ortega; with them I learned about Son Jarocho (Veracruz), Son de Tarima (Guerrero) and Danza Mexika (Center Valley of México).

Ever since then I have been learning and remembering more and more about my ancestors, our traditions, music, dance, food, and life-ways. For me, dancing and performing the music of my homeland is a way to showcase the beauty and richness of a country that is multicultural and plurilingual. We have a lot more to offer than just mariachis, the Spanish language and Cinco de Mayo parties. We have a history that is thousands of years old. Mexico is made up of sixty-eight Indigenous first nations which are communities of people that speak more than sixty-eight different languages and as such, literally perceive the world in sixty-eight different ways. My commitment to teaching traditional Mexican music and dance is born out of love for my people and the notion that, when I get on a stage to perform, I am making my ancestors proud.

What students and teachers say about Montse:

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